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Wisdom teeth removal

Wisdom teeth removal means having one or more of the third molars (your wisdom teeth) at the back of your mouth taken out. This can sometimes involve a surgical procedure.

Your wisdom teeth are the last four of the large grinding teeth (molars) at the back of your mouth to come through. You’re likely to have them by the time you reach your mid-twenties, though some people find they come through earlier or later than this.

Sometimes, your wisdom teeth don’t come through properly, meaning they’re impacted. This can cause problems such as pain, swelling and infection. Having your wisdom teeth taken out can ease these symptoms.

Dental check-up with female patient laying in chair smiling

Why would I need to have my wisdom teeth removed?

Wisdom teeth don’t always need to be removed. For many people, they come through normally and don’t cause any problems. However, as your wisdom teeth are your last teeth to come through, there’s often not enough space in your mouth for them to grow properly.

They can get partially stuck in your gums or grow at an angle. This is called an impacted wisdom tooth. Even impacted wisdom teeth don’t always need to be taken out if they aren’t causing any symptoms.

Sometimes though, the way an impacted wisdom tooth is positioned can make it easy for food and bacteria to get trapped around the gum. This can lead to swollen and sore gums (pericoronitis), tooth decay and infection. If you’re having problems such as these, your dentist may recommend taking the impacted tooth out.

Having your wisdom teeth removed is one of the most common procedures done in the UK. It’s usually done in your late teens or twenties, when your wisdom teeth come through.

Preparing for wisdom teeth removal

Your dentist will ask you to have an X-ray before having a wisdom tooth removed, so they can see the exact position of the tooth in the gum. This will allow your dentist to work out the best way to remove the tooth. Often, wisdom tooth removal is a straightforward procedure that your dentist will be able to do at the dental practice, under local anaesthesia.

If your tooth looks like it will be more difficult to remove, your dentist may need to refer you to a specialist oral surgeon. You’ll need to have the procedure in hospital, and you may be offered general anaesthesia.

Your nurse or surgeon will discuss with you what will happen before you have the procedure, including any pain you might have. If you’re unsure about anything, please just ask. Being fully informed will help you feel more at ease and will allow you to give your consent for the procedure to go ahead.


What are the alternatives to wisdom teeth removal?

If your wisdom teeth aren’t causing you any problems, even if they’re impacted, then you won’t need to have them taken out.

If your dentist thinks there’s a high risk of the nerves around your tooth being damaged, you may be offered a coronectomy. This is a procedure where the crown of the tooth is taken out but some of the root is left in place. This may help to reduce the chances of nerves around your tooth being damaged.

What happens during wisdom teeth removal?

The procedure for removing your wisdom teeth will vary, depending on how difficult your teeth are to take out. Upper wisdom teeth are usually easier to remove than lower ones. Your dentist can tell you exactly what to expect.

If you’re having your wisdom teeth removed at your dental practice, you’ll usually have it done under local anaesthesia. The local anaesthetic will completely block pain from your gums, but you will stay awake while your wisdom teeth are being removed. If you’re a nervous patient, you may be offered sedation as well as local anaesthesia. This helps you to relax.

If you’re having your teeth taken out in hospital, you may be offered general anaesthesia. If you have a general anaesthetic, you’ll be asleep during the procedure.

Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your dentist or surgeon will use special tools to gradually ease your tooth out, cutting into the gum if necessary. If your dentist or surgeon has cut into your gum, you may need dissolving stitches to close the wound.

What to expect afterwards

What happens after you have your wisdom teeth removed will depend on the type of anaesthesia you have. If you have general anaesthesia or sedation, make sure someone can take you home. And ask someone to stay with you for a day or so while the anaesthetic wears off.

After local anaesthesia, it may take several hours before the feeling comes back into your face and jaw. Take special care not to bump or knock the area. Don’t eat or drink anything for the first six hours after the procedure. You might have some discomfort as the anaesthetic wears off. But you'll be offered pain relief as you need it. You will be able to go home when you feel ready.

Your dentist or oral surgeon should give you some advice about looking after your teeth and gums before you go home. You may be given painkillers and mouthwash to use at home. You may also be prescribed a course of antibiotics to take, if there are signs that you have an infection when your tooth is taken out.


Recovering from wisdom teeth removal

Pain relief

It may take a few days to feel completely better after wisdom teeth removal. You’re likely to have some pain and discomfort after the procedure. This is usually worse for the first couple of days. You can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

As well as some pain, you may also have some swelling and stiffness in your jaw for a couple of days. This can make it difficult to open your mouth. Using an ice pack wrapped in a towel can help to reduce this.

Keeping the wound clean

Rinsing out your mouth will keep the wound clean and help it to heal. Do this very gently during the first 24 hours. If you rinse too forcefully, it can move the blood clots that have developed over the wound, and this can cause bleeding. Rinse after you have eaten with an antimicrobial mouthwash or salt water. This helps to get rid of bits of food.

Brush your teeth as usual, as best you can, gradually getting closer to the wound over a few days. After three or four days, you should be able to gently brush away any dissolving stitches you may have had.

If your wound starts to bleed after the procedure, you can bite down on a piece of gauze or a handkerchief for five minutes to stop it. Don’t eat very hot or cold food if your wound is bleeding, as this can make it start again.

Eating and drinking

You shouldn’t eat or drink at all for the first few hours after the operation. Then, for the first few days, stick to soft or liquid foods only. You can gradually return to your usual diet, but to begin with, try not to chew on the areas of your mouth that are healing. It’s best if you avoid alcohol or very hot or cold drinks for the first 24 hours.

Side-effects of wisdom teeth removal

The main side-effects from wisdom teeth removal include:

  • Pain, swelling and bruising around your jaw
  • Difficulty opening your mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Tiredness
  • Sensitive teeth around where the tooth was removed

Most people don't have any problems after having their wisdom teeth removed. You should seek medical advice if you are still experiencing symptoms after two or three days.

We have a network of dentists across the UK that are passionate about dentistry and are happy to answer your questions and offer advice. Wisdom teeth removal is just one of the many treatments we offer. Find your local Bupa Dental Care practice using the search below and get in touch.

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Healthcare Limited. Registered in England and Wales number: 03257078. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

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